Today is that time again when about 1.5% of the world will be watching a particular ball game in America, The Superbowl. Although Superbowl madness has been addressed on this forum, I’d like to put forward a couple of observations.
The Superbowl is the culmination of the 20th century adaptation of sports to mass media. The packaging, production, and marketing of this one game is a major profit center based on what is essentially a sedentary activity. There are 22 players on the field, and 100,000,000 people watching, most in comfy chairs via television.The game play is nominally an hour long, but the coverage lasts many hours. This includes pre-game and post-game coverage, plus the three hours needed to watch the sixty-minute game.
Worse than just sedentary, a predictable large fraction of the audience will be eating badly and drinking immoderately during the event. The advertising in all the media up to and during the event panders to and fosters this market segment. The message is clear: If you are not eating fried things and washing them down with booze, you are a weenie. If you are not buying these things for the family, you are not a good provider.
So let’s take a look at the activity itself. You have nearly two dozen buff young men in shiny tights periodically thrusting their bodies together to accomplish the explicit task of firmly holding a tapered cylinder with the goal of placing it repeatedly into the opponents end zone.
The result of this “scoring” is brief solo dancing and many a manly fanny patted.
What do I do on Superbowl Sunday evening? I go to a contradance. I spend the evening with a couple of dozen women in my arms, moving in rhythm and breathing hard. And the jocks in school called me gay.
I’ve been wondering this for years, as the USPS has been struggling to subsidize the Congressionally mandated 75 years in advance retirement plan during the worst downturn in the economy since the Great Depression. In order to continue, they have to shut down stations, limit deliveries, and eliminate next-day mail. Or be in violation of a Federal Unfunded Mandate.
Note that the Post Office receives $0.00 in taxpayer money, yet Congress gets to tell it how much it is allowed to charge, how much it has to pre-pay on all its benefit programs, and even how many free perks it has to give to members of Congress. In my lifetime, the price of a First Class stamp has gone from the price of a cup of coffee (5¢) to less than a third of that. We pay less for postage now than ever before in history, in terms of coffee, movie tickets, ounces of gold, or any hard measure.
Yet Congress in its wisdom has been steadily adding burdens and removing permissions in the last decade. And I have been wondering, why? Sure, the answer is clearly pandering to the lobbyists. But whose? Who really wants to kill the only company that delivers to every house in the country? Last night, I think I got my answer.
I was watching the news, flipping through the networks, and every outlet covered this story: Record online holiday sales trigger record shipping day.So which stations covered which shipping company? Who covered this story for the USPS? For DHL? For UPS? No one.
But FedEx was given minutes of free advertising (as an in-depth story) on every network. Thus my wacky conspiracy theory of the day is: FedEx is behind the lobbyists who are behind the legislation that is gutting the post office.
Back when I was 16 (this was in 1972), I was playing in a band that had just hooked up with a new lead singer. During one band practice, he asked me whether I had ever heard of “Scientology.” I said that I hadn’t. He asked whether he could arrange to send me some literature on the organization and I said “sure.” A few weeks later I received a brochure from Scientology. It claimed that the organization was scientific. I remember the literature containing photos of people being tested or trained using electronic meters with electrodes that were attached to their skin. I didn’t know what to think of all of this at the time, but I didn’t respond to the brochure’s invitation to call a phone number to learn more.
A week later, I received another piece of literature, and then another and another. Sometimes these were postcards, sometimes booklets. Sometimes they described various aspects of the organization. Sometimes they invited me to lectures, open houses and other events. I began to think of Scientologists as being a bit over the top; somehow, they reminded me of UFO believers (I don’t actually like that term; I’m referring to the people who believe that sentient beings from other planets have visited Earth).
The Scientology literature kept streaming in, week after week. Sometimes I received 4 or 5 pieces of mail in a week. I almost always received at least 3 mailings every week. I was living at my parents’ house in Overland Missouri at that time, and I would glance at this stuff and throw it away. But it kept coming, month after month and then year after year. I never responded to any of this literature. I never made a phone call to anyone at Scientology and no one from Scientology ever called me. I did go to one open house at the St. Louis Scientology center, but I merely looked around for less than an hour, then left. I never signed anything or asked to stay on the mailing list.
I moved away from home in 1978 to go to law school. The mailings continued to come, though, at least two per week. Even after I graduated from law school (three years later) the literature was still coming, at least one per week. To the best of my recollection, an occasional piece of Scientology literature was still being sent to my former house in Overland, even as I approached 30 years of age.
This will be a wild guess, but I would bet that I received an average of 2 pieces of mail per week from Scientology from 1972 until 1985. that would mean that I received well over 1,000 pieces of mail from Scientology, even though I never responded.
When I visited home and saw the piles of stuff waiting for me on the mail table, I felt sorry for the members of Scientology who were paying to send me all of that mail. I assumed (based on stories I read) that many young adults were handing over almost all of the disposable income to Scientology so that the organization could send me mail that I would throw away.
Like many things I’ve experienced, there is no lesson I can draw from this experience, merely this anecdote regarding the endless mailings I received from Scientology.
Look what we are doing to our women in our advertising. Jean Kilbourne explains, in an excerpt of a one-hour video titled Killing Us Softly. I own the full version and it is thought-provoking viewing–or perhaps it struck my especially hard because I am the father of two daughters, aged 10 and 12. What can we do about the unrealistic way much advertising portrays women? Step one, according to Kilbourne, is to become aware of the problem.
I have been to quite a few funerals in the last several years. Most of them were for elderly relatives. Some few of these funerals annoyed me because the master of ceremonies was a minister who apparently knew little of the departed, and so just delivered a half hour recruiting speech for his church, and called no other witnesses.
This weekend I went to the funeral of a cousin by marriage, my own age, who suddenly dropped dead. The processional music was appropriate for the deceased: “Margaritaville.” So I was looking forward to the service. A relative stood up at the lectern and said that this was to be a celebration of life. More hope rose.
But what followed was twenty minutes of pious speech about how important it is for everyone to love Jesus, especially since this life is not the important one, but rather the next. Eventually he wound down and briefly mentioned a couple of actual details from the life nominally the topic of this occasion.
I knew that his family partook of that popular death cult, Fundamentalist Christianity. But my few conversations with the suddenly departed never led me to believe that he took that afterlife very seriously. He seemed a live-life-to-the-fullest sort who embodied the Martin Luther quote: “Who loves not wine, women and song, Remains a fool his whole life long.”
So this service by someone who knew him did not strike me as entirely appropriate. Granted, it did match the services I’d attended for his elder relatives, and did not seem to discommode his closer family. I see there is a sociological purpose to sharing ridiculous claims, and of being reassured by authority figures that these absurdities are true, especially at times of stress. It is a form of claiming kinship, of affirming loyalty to an in-group.
But to me, a funeral should be a celebration of a life, a sharing of a personality and experiences. It annoys me when the service primarily focuses on recruiting for a church, and as an aside, oh, yeah, this man also had an individual life.
I was listening to local Christian AM radio station “Truthtalk KJSL” tonight while driving home (as an amateur anthropologist). I heard a promotional spot that caught my attention. It went like this:
Abraham Lincoln said: “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.” That’s why at KJSL we tell you the truth!
Oh, Really? Is that why?
I was watching a marvelous recent fundamentalist ad and my childhood training touched my consciousness. I was five when my parents first brought a TV into our house. They watched with me, and explained that any product that was worth getting didn’t need to be advertised. Basically, they implanted the idea that commercials were plugs for stuff you don’t need, or were too inadequate to sell on their own merits.
I easily absorbed this meme. Anytime I see a product on the tube, it feels like a negative review. As I grew older this gave me some trouble, because I noticed some products that I already liked being advertised. But I got over it.
Commercials these days do have some of the highest production values out there. And this one linked above is visually stunning and emotionally persuasive. But for a dark and dangerous version of the product they are selling: Prayer.
I would have embedded it, but embedding was disabled. I suspect because the ad was being panned by rationalists around the web; not their intended audience. But for visual interest, here is an ad from a few years ago that appeals to the same people, The Gathering Storm:
Really, go see the new one. Much more powerful. They are learning.